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Football Christianity

Tim Tebow is back in the news after being cut from the New England Patriots. When he was with the Denver Broncos, Tebow made a name for himself (and added his name to the dictionary) with his flamboyant public appreciation whenever God helped him out with a football play.

The interesting thing about his kneeling in praise is that it’s self-aggrandizing while pretending not to be. It was precisely anticipated in Matthew: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5). Jesus makes clear that they’ve received their reward here on earth and don’t get bonus points from heaven.

Mr. Tebow, are we to imagine that the Creator of the universe took time out of his busy schedule of not saving starving children to help you make a good football play? I understand that it’s important to you, and it’s nice to see a professional athlete not bragging about how great he is, but doesn’t football seem a little trivial? Doesn’t it make your religion look bad to even suggest that? And doesn’t it seem illogical to imagine God being yanked first one way by you and then in the opposite way by some dude praying for the opposite result on the other team?

But I’m probably too harsh. Let me applaud something else that Tebow does.

He’s known for evangelizing through Bible verses painted in the eye black on his face. Above, he’s proclaiming Ephesians 2:8–10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

That’s good advice. But Tebow has promoted a variety of verses, not just the standard John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …”) or Luke 2:10–11 (“I bring you good news of great joy …”). He not afraid to say what needs to be said.

Here he gives us Exodus 22:29, which says, “Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the firstborn of your sons.” God’s demand of child sacrifice is often forgotten, but it’s good to be reminded of the basics.

Other verses that show how God used child sacrifice within Israel are Ez. 20:25–6.

Of course, the size constraints of eye black make Twitter look like an encyclopedia, but these messages are worth reading. This one is a nice reminder of God’s limitations. 2 Kings 3:26–27 tells of the end of a battle against Moab. The prophet Elisha promised Judah a victory. But when the king of Moab saw that he was losing, he sacrificed his son and future heir. This magic was apparently too much for Yahweh, because “there was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland.” (I write more here.)

A verse with a similar message is Judges 1:19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.”

Another oldie but goodie. Psalms 89:7 says “In the council of the holy ones Elohim [God] is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” How often do we forget that God is part of an Olympus-like pantheon? Ps. 82:1–2 gives a similar message.

I’m waiting for someone to reference Deuteronomy 32:8, which describes how Yahweh’s dad divided up his inheritance (all the tribes of the earth) among his sons: “When El Elyon [the Most High] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up humankind, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the heavenly assembly.”

You rarely see an entire chapter reference, but Leviticus 20 is a meaty one with a lot of good fundamentals. Everyone knows that homosexual relations are abominable, and verse 13 gives the death as the appropriate penalty. But it’s easy to forget the other demands of this chapter: eat no unclean animals (:25), exile any couple that has sex during the woman’s menstrual period (:18), death to spiritual mediums (:27), death for adultery (:10), and death for “anyone who curses their father or mother” (:9). It comes as a package, people!

Eye black references to divine genocide are common. Who hasn’t seen a football player displaying 1 Samuel 15:2–3, Deut. 20:16–18, or Judges 21:10? But it’s nice to see this one. Deuteronomy 2:34–5 says, “And we took all [Sihon’s] cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.”

I’ll skim through a few more that I’ve seen. Why aren’t more sermons taught on these verses?

  • In our modern unbiblical and slavery-free society, we too often forget that not only did God permit slavery, but he regulated it. Exodus 21:20–21 says, “And if a man smite his slave with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. But if [the slave] live for a day or two, he shall not be punished, for [the slave] is his property.”
  • I guess with football players you’ll find lots of verses about violence. Isaiah 13:15–16 is a popular one: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.” Another that’s so common as to almost be cliché is Ps. 137:9: “Happy is the one who seizes your [Babylon’s] infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
  • It’s not surprising that sexual slavery interests football players. Numbers 31:15–18 says, “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
  • I like to see reminders for racial purity. Ezra 9:2 says, “They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them.” Other verses in this vein are Nehemiah 13:1–3 and Deut. 23:3.
  • Finally, a helpful reminder that even Jesus can be wrong: “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). Two thousand years later, and we’re still waiting. Ah well, we all make mistakes!

I think of these as the Forgotten Verses, and I praise athletes like Tebow for putting them front and center where they belong. It’d be great to get them back into circulation by making them the subject of sermons. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

(If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the SNL skit where Jesus visits Tim Tebow.)

Men occasionally stumble over the truth,
but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off
as if nothing had happened.
— Winston Churchill

(This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared 1/9/12.)

About Bob Seidensticker

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